Italy is a very image conscious country – just wander down any Italian street and you will see beautiful shops and elegantly dressed passers by. The places and people are examples of ‘la bella figura’ – which means ‘creating the right impression’. The opposite of the ‘bella’ version is ‘la brutta figura’, which is similar in concept to the French ‘faux pas’, only in Italian culture ‘la brutta figura’ is somewhat worse than its French equivalent. In the eyes of the world Italy is one making big brutta figura at the moment, thanks in no small part to recent articles in internationally read newspapers.
While some dismiss these articles as foreign interference, many of the people I know, would not disagree that things are not going all too well in the land of pizza and Ferrari. These people are aware of Italy’s brutta figura, and it is embarrassing. However, there is the possibility that the embarrassment that these mischievous articles have generated may actually help reverse the downward slide which is occurring in the Living Museum. Two changes would make a noticeable difference. First, the electoral laws need to be properly reformed, and second all that is needed is quite simply a few new faces in Italian politics, and, possibly, the forthcoming collapse of the Prodi government may just provoke someone who can bring about such change into Italian politics.
That someone is the present head of Ferrari and the Italian employers’ federation chairman Luca di Montezemolo, and there are rumours that once his presidency at the federation ends he will enter politics. Heck, I really hope so. He would be something of a breath of fresh air in Italy, and he certainly has the management skills necessary to put together the right team and thus get down to sorting things out. Whether he will be able to navigate the veritable ocean of vested interests is another question, but seems to have done OK at Ferrari and Fiat, both of which are quintessentially Italian companies, warts, vested interests, and all. So it sounds as though he may stand a sporting chance.
The slight fly in the ointment, or so it would seem, is that Prodi’s band of brothers has collapsed a short time before Montezemolo managed to enter the scene . However, all may not be lost, because you see, the next elections will result in the same old unloved but familiar faces gaining power, and this will further lower the Italian populace’s esteem in those who purport to lead them. Enter stage right Montezemolo and, with a little luck some electoral reform will be carried out, he will sweep the field, and his mere presence may well give the majority of Italians the impression that there is still a ray of hope shining through what has been becoming an ever more overcast sky.
And, never fear, if Montezemolo really does manage to get the Italian ball rolling once more, there are more than enough talented Italians to keep it rolling in the right direction. This I know, I am lucky enough to teach plenty of them. And the frustration that has built up in such people is, at the same time, serving to stoke the fires of ambition, and, in the not too distant future the flames emitted by these people will reduce the old and ineffective to mere ashes.
La brutta figura will lead to la bella figura, or, as we say in English ‘every cloud has a silver lining’. Just you wait and see.
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